Mary Riddell is just one of many journalists who have passed comment of late on the 'nasty, short and brutish life' of the factory farmed chicken. She is certain that Jamie Oliver's and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's related tv programmes will convince people to pay an extra £1 for the 'high-welfare' variety. Jim Plumley, head of sales and marketing for the Channel Islands Co-operative Society, disagrees:
"There are people who are less fortunate than others and are concerned about the price of free range chickens,’ he said. ‘People who are perhaps more fortunate will have a better choice."
Indeed. People starve while food rots. But what is interesting about Riddell's position in the reformist quagmire is that she goes on to compare the cramped living conditions of the 855 million meat chickens reared in the UK every year with those often suicidal unfortunates in that country's overcrowded prisons. This is, alas, as far as it goes. She does not come close to recognizing that the profit system is the cause of such animal and human suffering. As D.H.Lawrence said, earning a wage is a prison occupation. She does not, therefore, make the more pertinent comparison: cages for animals - boxes for workers:
"...But bad living conditions are not suffered by animals only. Look around the world and see the shanty towns, tenements, back-to-back slums, tower blocks and jerry built council and private estates. The majority of the working class live and die in cramped, overcrowded, unhealthy conditions, lacking privacy or quiet, and often in an environment of depressing ugliness. There are some workers who can negotiate a set of wages that allows them to live in some degree of comfort, rather as the race-horse or pedigree breeding animal may be housed in special quarters. More than a century agitation and legislation have not however eradicated cramped and inadequate living conditions for the majority of humans.
"Yet it would seem a simple matter to provide comfortable living conditions for people - and for animals. The arguments against doing so are couched in accountant's jargon -alternative methods are dismissed as 'uneconomic', 'too labour intensive', 'not viable', 'unprofitable'. Members of the working class hardly need reminding that resistance to higher wages is the first principle in the code of every employer. Economic self-interest and competition override all finer feelings.
". . . The human race and society are not superior to,or apart from, nature but a product of of the universal process of evolution. As the only living creatures on this planet capable of consciously changing the environment and with an insight into the laws of nature we have a special interest in protecting and conserving the earth which is our means of life. Such an outlook will permeate socialist society - a true respect for our environment and fellow living creatures." (From the article, 'Livestock Liberation', Socialist Standard, June 1979)